STYLE VERSUS SUBSTANCE If you look back at 2009 there are a few things that stood out to me to be different between how things were ran under Bill Callahan and how it was going to be under Bo Pelini. Here are just a few of them:
1. Rankings aren't everything – I sincerely doubt that players like Thaddeus Randle would have gotten much of a look under Bill Callahan, but under Bo Pelini are not only looked to as one of the possible gems in the class, but a guy that could be a catalyst at some point in the future. Under Callahan, it seemed that a player needed 2 or more years was just too much to possibly consider them as a recruit. Callahan was much more in the here and now while Bo is thinking two years down the road or more. This also goes back into how things have probably changed in practices with the ones getting 75% of the reps under Callahan and the top two teams getting upwards of 90%. Bo seems a bit more long-term and developmental.
2. Play? No. Compete? Definitely. – There is simply a different approach to the way Bo is talking to the players than how it was done before. It was famous under the previous staff to talk about early playing time and the possibility to even come in and start. Under Bo, it's a little more realistic and wholesome response to the playing time question that he must get from every recruit that comes there for an official visit. Can you play early in your career at Nebraska? Possibly. There are some that can attest to that under Bo Pelini this past year, but at the very least you will get a chance to come in and compete for a spot. Is there really anything else you could ask for?
3. Closing a recruit on official visit weekends – If there was one thing that you had to be ready for on Sundays of official visit weekends under the previous staff it was following up the commitment or commitments of recruits. Under Pelini this past year, Nebraska received exactly zero (not counting Martin although he did commit, but didn't go public immediately following and actually took another trip) commitments on the weekend of a recruit's official visit. This statistic to me is a bit staggering. However, there was home-opening weekend, under the lights in Lincoln and there were exactly zero official visitors that weekend. Which brings me to #4.
4. Recruiting in-season – If there is another contrast between the staff now and the staff then it's the lack of real dedication to recruiting during the season. Names that were being thrown around in the summer like Marvin Sanders, Ted Gilmore and Ron Brown seemed to fade away as fall camp started up and the season started. I think between those three coaches that they are really responsible for just two of the players in the class (Brandon Kinnie and Andrew Green). Recruiting is as much a duty of a coach during the season as coaching your current team is.
CLASS IS UNDER-RATED OK, I will address the ratings of this class. I think that it's a joke. First of all, how do you seriously lump in players that haven't been fully evaluated into the three star ranking and call it good? Does it do the class and the player justice? No. That is as much as you will get out of me on that particular subject.
However, what you will get from me is that the players that did just get lumped into that three-star category that should have been four-star contenders. Players like Lazarri Middleton, Andrew Green, Eric Martin, Dejon Gomes, Chris Williams, Rex Burkhead and Jeremiah Sirles for starters. I think that a player like Brent Qvale might have also been deserving of some consideration here.
Regardless, Nebraska's class is better than what the prognosticators say not because guys were under-rated or not evaluated. The class was heavy in the areas where they really needed it.
HITS AND MISSES In my assessment, I think that this class had three areas where I think homeruns were hit with the number of players and the quality of players that were signed at their positions.
1. Defensive Backs – The sheer numbers of the players that will play in the defensive backfield is what stands out to you. But, then you also take into consideration the height and overall size of the cornerbacks that Nebraska brought in and you know that they want to get physical at this position. More than that, an injury or two last year left Nebraska scrambling to get healthy bodies on the field. Throw in that Anthony Blue should be back for spring practices is a huge boost for Nebraska.
2. Offensive Line – There is no way that all four of the guys that Nebraska got to fill the spots along the offensive line are all three-stars. C'mon. More than that though, Nebraska went out and got big, athletic players with the ability to run block as well as pass block. Would have liked to see a true center in this class, but Mike Caputo has played well so far.
3. Linebackers – If you asked me at the beginning of the year what the chances were that Nebraska got both Chris Williams and Eric Martin; I would have said none. Nebraska just landed two very different players than what they currently have in Lincoln. Not only that, these are two players that can push for immediate playing time at one of the set of positions that is just paper thin for depth.
1. Defensive Tackle - I am a believer in what Randle might become, but Nebraska missed out on guys like Corey Adams, Latu Heimuli, Sione Tuihalamaka, Myles Wade and others through the season. Players like that are maybe a little more ready to go than Randle will be when he reports this summer. Now, I am hearing that Randle might be up around 260 pounds and hopes to be 270 by this summer, but that is still light.
2. Wide Receiver – I like Brandon Kinnie, but Nebraska really needed a second guy here, in my opinion. More than that, Nebraska needed a guy like they don't have here either. A guy that has the ability to run some of the slip-screens and make plays in space. Instead, Nebraska was looking at players like Chris Omigie and L'Damian Washington down the stretch who are longer guys that are 4.5+ guys as opposed to going out and getting a guy like Kendall Thompkins who they recruited last year and lost to Miami on signing day.
PREDICTIONS Let me give you my take on the players in the 2009 class and one walk-on's chances on playing this fall for Nebraska:
WILL PLAY: Dejon Gomes, Eric Martin, Lazarri Middleton AND/OR Andrew Green, Brandon Kinnie, Rex Burkhead and P.J. Mangieri: My thoughts on Gomes as well as Green/Middleton is that there is a hole at the starting position vacated by Armando Murillo that will need some competition. There is also a need to move Eric Hagg back to safety and that might open up the dime spot with hopefully Prince Amukamara holding nickel and pushing to start. Martin will likely play because he is a serious pass-rushing WILL. Kinnie will play because of the need to replace Nathan Swift and Todd Peterson and not having a real go-to guy that is on the roster currently. Burkhead is different than anything Nebraska has now and he should see time as a running back, possibly as a wide receiver and definitely on special teams. Expect Mangieri to be the FG, PAT and punt snapper for the next four years.
MIGHT PLAY: Taylor Martinez AND/OR Dijon Washington, Jason Ankrah and Chris Williams: Nebraska had a real problem at safety last year with a lack of true athleticism and center-fielders that just knew how to play the position. Martinez doesn't have that real safety background you want, but his athleticism is an improvement. Ankrah could play this season if you see an injury to the top four defensive ends: Barry Turner, Pierre Allen, Cameron Meredith and Josh Williams. It happened last year. Chris Williams will be interesting, but I seem him as a MIKE and that will mean that he is behind Phillip Dillard and Will Compton. We'll see on this one.
All others, in my mind, are destined for red shirts this fall.
It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. It always is in recruiting. Nebraska gets the one that you want and miss on another. It's year-round folks and this sick process has turned the page. Enjoy.